Congress Heights Update: Online Access, Affordable Transportation and Carrots, Oh My!

This spring three different DC LISC investments generated positive outcomes for families living in Congress Heights.

  1. the Washington Middle School for Girls helped close the digital divide
  2. the Vehicles for Change program allowed families to have access to affordable private transportation
  3. the Organic Community Teaching Garden at THEARC built knowledge and experience about organic urban farming, healthy cooking and eating, and entrepreneurship.

Washington Middle School for Girls

The Washington Middle School for Girls (located at THEARC) recently used LISC funds to cover the cost of a new web based information system. Ultimately, these dollars will help the parents have a role in their daughter’s education while reducing the digital divide that often separates lower income families from many online resources.

The system allows parents to check their child’s grades, attendance, homework assignments, and after school activities. Parents can also use the system to email their child’s teachers and to view activities and announcements for the school. Parents without access to computers in their homes are able to use computers at THEARC to log into the system.

This grant also helps parents and caregivers have the opportunity to pursue their own educational goals.  The web based system includes a learning library section where they will have access to resources and materials to help aid their own learning.  In addition, WMSG plans to bring in Turning the Page, a local nonprofit that provides parent education workshops and leadership training.

Vehicles for Change

Vehicles for Change, a nonprofit organization, sells quality, donated, used cars to low income families to help them get and/or stabilize their employment and have greater mobility.   LISC provided funding to Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) to bring this program to the Parklands Village and the Congress Heights neighborhood.

On May 4, 2012 11 families, LISC, Vehicles for Change and BBAR celebrated the families’ purchase of these affordable cars. Vance Page, Community Services Coordinator at Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR), said the program “is one of the greatest initiatives I’ve had the opportunity to work with in the 25 years I’ve been doing community services.”

Families who participated in the program said the cars allowed them to have a reliable way to work and resulted in job promotions, increased household income, and more time to spend with their children. In May a participant in the program used her car to drive to North Carolina to see her son graduate from college.

Another participant was a custodian, who aspired to become a maintenance technician. He attended night classes after work to get the necessary training. However, his only opportunity to work as a journeyman was on the graveyard shift. Public transportation is not available during these hours.  Once he was able to purchase an affordable car through Vehicles for Change he was able to make it to the graveyard shifts. After receiving the necessary training he was promoted to a maintenance technician. Between the promotion and overtime pay, it increased his household income enough that his wife was able to go back to college.

Organic Community Teaching Garden

The Organic Community Teaching Garden, located at THEARC, is an organic garden that is farmed by Congress Heights youth. The young people plant, cultivate, harvest, and sell the vegetables to their neighbors so that the produce ends up on dinner tables throughout the neighborhood. The produce is not all the garden provides for the community. Through a complimentary program the young people receive training in financial literacy, resume writing and public speaking. LISC provides funding for the garden.

Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR), the nonprofit that owns and manages THEARC, hire youth to manage the Organic Teaching Garden. An experienced farmer provides them with hands-on and classroom style instruction about organic farming.   They spend about ten hours a week as a participant in the program with 8 hours working in the garden and at the market and 2 hours of instruction and mentoring.  Every Saturday from June to November they sell their produce at the Ward 8 Farmers Market at THEARC. Opening day this year was June 2.

Last year the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market had 4,070 customers from June to November and served between 400-500 families.  Through BBAR’s partnerships with the WIC program, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Catholic Charities, the Capital Area Food Bank, and the Wholesome Wave Foundation over $20,000 in fresh food was distributed to needy residents. Customers were also able to take advantage of the Double Dollars program where WIC participants, seniors or EBT recipients could receive double the value of the credit by buying fresh produce at the market.

This summer the Ward 8 Farmers Market expanded to the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus at the Chapel Gate.   To give more people access to healthy foods, customers can catch The Farmers Market Circulator Shuttle, a free bus service, from points throughout the neighborhood to the Market at THE ARC and St. Elizabeth.